Urban Case-Studies

Simon Esmonde Cleary has argued that Roman cities in Gaul were machines for producing Roman citizens.1 The shape, nature, amenities and purposes of cities inculcated in their inhabitants particular Roman lifestyles and views on the world. The changes which Gallic cities underwent in the late Roman period, and in particular the new prominence of Christianity within them, therefore inevitably reshaped the experiences of their inhabitants, giving rise to ‘a very different type of citizen and of civic political and communal life’.2 The goal of this chapter is to paint a picture of the changing urban landscapes in four Gallic cities, with an especial focus on the impact of these changes on the laity. Whereas the previous chapter looked at religious spaces in general terms, this one will ask what we can know about how the laity interacted with the specific environments of Arles, Lyon, Trier and Tours. This will require a schematic reconstruction of the landscape of each example, and an understanding of its position within Gaul as a whole, as well as the sacred sites that emerged within the individual cities. As a number of scholars have recently emphasized, late antique Christianity was a regionally diverse phenomenon.3 Local concerns and local pressures acted strongly on religious communities, despite the universalist claims of Christianity. This chapter therefore explores how these very different cities worked to create different kinds of religious citizens. What specific opportunities and limitations did lay people face in each place, and how might these have shaped their religious worlds?

These cities have been chosen to represent a range of geographical locales. Scholars have long recognized the very different historical experiences of those in northern and southern Gaul, but there were significant variations even within each of these regions, as these case-studies make clear.4 They were also chosen because each offers enough evidence to say at least something illuminating about the lay experience. In some cases, this evidence is largely archaeological; in others, it is largely literary; and in one case, the epigraphic record is substantial enough to offer some interesting insights. Since the evidence bases are different for each city, I have generally avoided making comparisons. The case-studies are more like discrete portraits: pictures of what we know in each instance. For each of the cities, moreover, substantial questions remain and cannot be answered with current evidence. Nonetheless, each represents an opportunity, and gives some sense of the worlds of the lay people living in late antique Gallic cities. This in itself makes the exercise worthwhile.

The impact of Christianity on urban environments has been the subject of significant scholarly interest in recent decades. The changes in city- and townscapes had already long been seen as a primary signifier for the end of the ancient world, and the imprint of Christianity upon the urban landscape as central to the transition to the medieval world. The work of the scholars involved in the Premiers monuments and Topographie chrétienne projects has stimulated and made possible extensive work on the shifting monumental environments of cities in Gaul, work that now provides us with a complex and highly variegated picture of change, evolution and continuity on a local level.5 This has been combined with detailed studies of how Christian bishops laid claim to landscapes that had previously been key markers of classical civilization and its accompanying civic religious traditions.6 This chapter draws extensively on both of these approaches. However, it will strive, as far as is possible, to consider these issues from the perspective of lay people rather than religious elites. These elites still provide a significant proportion of our evidence. However, we can contemplate how lay people may have perceived and interacted with the religious buildings in each city, and we can speculate about the impact of topography on the experience of living in and moving through these places.

Before we consider each case-study, however, we need to establish the macro-level changes and developments of late antiquity to which every urban centre in Gaul was responding, at their own rate and in their own ways. As Gauthier has pointed out, although the ancient city looms large in our consciousness and sense of antiquity, ‘it required exceptional prosperity produced by a not less exceptional pax romana’.7 The classical Roman city was very much a product of the high empire and when that began to change, the ancient city changed with it. These changes can be traced in the archaeological record: public buildings were stripped or left to disintegrate; private housing was more basic and technically inferior; water supply and sewage disposal systems were poorly maintained and eventually abandoned; the planned and controlled ancient urban landscape dissolved into the messy and incoherent medieval landscape.8 This did not mean that cities were no longer important. These changes took place even in Gallic cities whose status and administrative role were on the rise. Nor did it mean dramatic changes for all. Esmonde Cleary has recently argued that cities south of the Loire had a surprisingly high degree of continuity in urban life, with the persistence of established forms, which in turn enabled persistence in institutional, cultural and economic forms at least until the end of the fifth century.9 Cities continued to be nodes of government for as long as there was an imperial presence in Gaul, and played the same role for the Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks who came after. But despite this, and despite remarkable continuity of occupation on urban sites, ‘it is indisputable that during late Antiquity cities all over Gaul were tending to become both smaller and, in various respects, simpler’.10 This process was under way before the end of the second century, but is particularly detectable in the architectural record of the fifth century, when we see ‘major, structural changes’ to the form of Gallic cities.11

Both Nancy Gauthier and Simon Loseby connect this to change in the idea of the town or city in late antiquity, or, as Loseby puts it, to a ‘more utilitarian conception of urbanism’.12 We can see this pragmatism in the use and reuse of public monuments in particular – these fill with private housing, are cannibalized for building materials or are repurposed as churches.13 They were reused with a ‘curious indifference’, given how central these buildings had been not long before to the ideological meaning and identity of an urban centre.14 We also see the construction of walls, which excluded forums and public monuments – the ancient heart of the Gallic city was now sometimes quite literally cut off from the centre.15 Public streets filled up with shops and residences.16 In their descriptions of the cities of Gaul in the fourth century, neither Ammianus Marcellinus nor Ausonius of Bordeaux mentions their fora, spaces which would previously have been at the heart of urban life.17 If cities were ‘arguments in stone’, a different argument was being made in late antiquity.18 Ausonius’ Ordo urbium nobilium emphasized above all the economic function of a city.19 As Lavan puts it, ‘civic life becomes a space for the enactment of economic success, the city as market, rather than as cultural centre’.20

One of the other major players in this change was Christianity.21 The initial impact of Christianity on public space was minimal. In the fourth century, Christian churches and martyr shrines were largely a peripheral phenomenon, clustered in extra-mural cemetery areas, or built on available land on the outskirts of towns. Only slowly and gradually did Christian buildings begin to appear in what had been the centres of the ancient cities, and in some places this did not happen at all.22 Once these buildings began to appear, however, they multiplied. Increasingly elaborate shrines, chapels, basilicas and pilgrimage centres appeared over the tombs of saints. Ascetic dwellings – both small-scale and large – mushroomed across the landscape. Cathedrals became complexes surrounded by baptisteries, residences for the bishop and other clergy, official reception areas, dining rooms, libraries, archives, dormitories, courtyards, chapels, xenodochia and more.23 It soon became the norm for cities to have large numbers of religious buildings. By the end of the seventh century, Le Mans had 20 churches and Auxerre had 29; by the middle of the eighth century, Metz had more than 40.24 These various buildings formed new foci for civic life, scattered through the urban landscape.25 They did not create a central gravitational pull as the forum once had, drawing in the political, religious, cultural and social life of the city. Christian Gallic cities were instead multi-focal and rambling. This had a profound impact on the experiences of inhabitants.

These Christian sites have a particular prominence for us, and in maps of late antique Gallic cities, such as those in the Topographie chrétienne series, they stand alongside Roman-era public monuments as the primary markers of the city landscape. However, sometimes they were hard up against rival religious sites. Esmonde Cleary has recently emphasized that many pagan sites demonstrate continued use through the fourth and fifth centuries.26 In the late sixth century, Gregory of Tours tells a story of two young men quarrelling at a pagan sanctuary in Vienne, and the loser seeking refuge in the church of Julian right next door.27 These structures were largely excised from the textual record and have not received systematic treatment by modern archaeologists.28 They would, however, have remained a part of the religious topography for lay Christians and mitigated the Christian reinterpretation of spaces. Each of the case-studies below, therefore, establishes what we can know about the Christian buildings of late antiquity, but then also places them in their overall settings, to get a picture of how they fit into the landscape. The physical worlds that lay people inhabited are now largely gone. It is possible, however, to imagine something of their spaces, and this helps us to understand more fully their experiences of the world.


Arles is one of the better known cities of late antique Gaul, in part because its Roman past remains so visible today. A number of its monuments still loom over the modern citizens, much as they must have loomed over the late antique ones. The enormous amphitheatre, the impressive theatre, the baths of Constantine and the imposing walls, all attest even now to the wealth of the city and the resources that were poured into making it a prestige site.29 The remaining traces of the circus, of the forum and of a recently discovered basilica, which may have served as an audience hall, hint at how much more there once was.30 Arles was an imperial city, a seat of the praetorian prefecture, the location of the mint, an occasional residence of emperors.31 It was also a centre for trade, for commerce and for movement between the Mediterranean and the interior of Gaul.32 This had brought its inhabitants great wealth, a wealth reflected in the ornate villas of the Trinquetaille region, and in the expensively decorated sarcophagi in which they deposited their dead.33 The nodal position of Arles within Roman transport networks kept the money flowing in and the goods flowing through despite the times of economic difficulty elsewhere.34 Furthermore, as a city with important imperial connections, Arles remained linked to wider networks of power.35 Although some peripheral housing areas were abandoned in the third century, it was not really until the late fifth and sixth centuries that we find signs of economic contraction – the warfare of the region finally caught up with Arles.36 It was repeatedly besieged, transport routes were damaged, and trade destinations belonged now to different barbarian kingdoms.37 In the period of Frankish rule, the literary and archaeological record went quiet.38 Arles’ heyday was over.

Even before this, however, we can see signs that the interaction between the people of Arles and their urban spaces was changing. Just as the city reached its peak of political importance, the forum was being cannibalized for building materials and housing was being built into the walls of the circus.39 This was not evidence of ‘decline’, but of something else: more pragmatic attitudes to monuments, and a shift in the style of elite display, away from public space and towards more private, or restricted, audiences, such as visitors to one’s elaborate villa.40 Monumentality was no longer tied to prestige.41 Quite how this changed inhabitants’ views of their city is unclear. In the 460s, Sidonius Apollinaris wrote about how after a visit to the emperor in Arles he walked down to the forum, while some people hid behind statues or columns in order to avoid meeting him.42 Archaeologists, however, assure us that there was no longer a forum to speak of in Arles by the time Sidonius wrote.43 Perhaps he was projecting the image of the city as he imagined it still should be, or the ‘forum’ meant something different in the mid-fifth century than it had meant before.

Christianity would always have faced a challenge to impose itself visibly upon a city marked so overtly by monuments to a non-Christian history.44 Nonetheless, the site of the first cathedral was prominent – just inside the city walls, close to one of the main gates, on a raised area, looking down over the city.45 Recent excavations have uncovered an enormous basilica in this area, which may be the remains of this original church.46 A church was also built in the centre of the city, near the forum, perhaps in the fifth century.47 This would eventually become the cathedral, although the timing of that transition is unclear. These would have been impressive statements of Christian presence in the city, but Arles also boasted a number of other Christian sites. There were many smaller churches, a baptistery, a clerical house, a residence for the sick, a monastery for men built before the end of the fifth century, and a monastery for women built by Caesarius on the site of the former cathedral in the early sixth century.48

More peripheral areas of the city were marked by spaces deemed sacred to Saint Genesius. Legend had it that Genesius was a catechumen, serving as a notary in the imperial administration in Arles during the persecution of Diocletian. When called upon to transcribe the sentences passed upon Christians he refused, declared his faith and fled pursuit by flinging himself into the Rhône and swimming across, so that the river baptized him like the River Jordan, according to his Passio.49 Unfortunately for Genesius, however, he was apprehended and beheaded on the far bank.50 Genesius was buried in the Alyscamps cemetery, on the south bank of the river, beyond the city’s walls and he eventually received a church over his tomb, dedicated to his memory. The site of his martyrdom, however, was on the north bank, and this too became a venerated sacred site.51 Gregory of Tours tells us that there was a mulberry tree there, from which pilgrims used to scrape or pull pieces of bark, so that by his time it was already in poor condition.52 On Genesius’ festival, pilgrims and locals would process from the church in Alyscamps, across the river, to pay respects at the site of his death.53 The journey between these sites was a long one, and it wound its way through the city. As a number of scholars have observed, however, the distance between these two sites may have helped to maintain an extended but also unified sense of what the city was.54 Arles had always been divided by the river that ran through it: Ausonius called it duplex Arelate, ‘divided by the streams of headlong Rhône’.55 One bank of the Rhône was marked by industry and commerce, the ports and warehouses of the city’s lifeblood. The other bank was the site of imperial display and magnificence.56 Genesius, and the pilgrimage between his two sacred sites, however, brought the two parts together.57 Hilary of Arles matched it all up, calling Genesius’ two sites a ‘two-fold honour’ for a two-fold city.58 ‘The saint sanctifies that bank with his triumph, this with his tomb; he illuminates that with his blood, this with his body.’59 The journey of the pilgrims imitated Genesius’ own unifying movement and Arles was always perceived as stretching as far as each of his sacred sites.60

Simon Loseby has described the impact of Christianity on the landscape of Arles as ‘topographically conservative and conceptually radical’.61 Despite the number of new Christian buildings that proliferated in the town in late antiquity, they do not seem to have had a dramatic impact on the topography of the city and how its inhabitants would have experienced it. The fundamental markers of urban life remained the same. What Loseby points to, however, is that a number of clerical texts from Arles indicate a strong desire to shape the lay view of their urban landscape in religious terms or to dictate their interaction with urban spaces. The sermon on Genesius, which was probably written by Hilary of Arles, emphasized the connection between the martyr and the physical environment that would have surrounded the lay audience, with frequent reference to the walls, to the river and to the tomb located in ‘the most fortunate city’.62 A sermon on a miracle on Genesius’ festival, which may also have been a work of Hilary, likewise emphasized the familiar geography of the Arlesian setting, and the flow of crowds through the urban spaces on this popular occasion. The preacher told of how the boat bridge had collapsed as the festival goers had been progressing from one of Genesius’ sites to the other. The Rhône river, in this text, appeared as a threatening natural force, tamed by the power of the saint. It was the ‘terrible Rhône’ with ‘immense raging waters’, yet it could not triumph over the piety of the people of Arles, and the ‘native and familiar bank sustained everyone safe and unharmed’.63 He then described the disaster as if it were a continuation of the procession – through the waters and out the other side. ‘The procession of all came out, just as it had gone in.’64 The preacher ended with a note of affirmation, as diverse sections of the city’s population were united by the miracle set in their very own cityscape. When Hilary wrote the Vita of his predecessor Honoratus, he also emphasized the importance of physical location and proximity in making the most of the saint’s power: ‘It gives us no little confidence to be privileged to have his tomb; for we who treasure his bones here may assuredly count on his blessings in heaven.’65 In the Vita of Hilary himself, the city’s basilica was the site of some of his more dramatic acts of sanctity.66 In each of these fifth-century texts, the author tried to ‘convert’ the landscape of Arles so that its lay people would experience it as imbued with Christian meaning. They fought against the physical persistence of classical monuments with a conceptual reinterpretation.

This was not the only possible Christian response to the urban landscape, however, and quite a different approach is demonstrated in the sermons of Caesarius, preached over half a century later. Caesarius treated the landscape of Arles with suspicion because it was, for him, emblematic of secularity, of sinful leisure activities and of materialism. The circus and amphitheatre lured people into sin. The forum, marketplaces and basilicas were sites of idle conversations, lawsuits and business. People rushed back ‘down into the streets both in body and in heart’ as soon as the lessons had been read in church.67 Caesarius appeared more sceptical than Hilary that the spaces of the city could be Christianized. He instead urged his congregants to lift their minds away from the physical and to focus on the homeland they would reach after their deaths.68 ‘Let no one deceive himself, beloved brethren, the patria of Christians is in heaven, not here.’69 These differences in approach in part reflected each preacher’s pastoral style. However, the circumstances of the city had also changed. When Hilary preached in the early to mid-fifth century, Arles was booming. It made sense to tie Christianity to the streets and river of a flourishing city. As Caesarius preached in the early to mid-sixth century, however, barbarians encamped beyond the city’s walls. Arles had become an unstable, impermanent place, vulnerable to forces beyond its control, stripped of its former distinction. Perhaps this atmosphere induced Caesarius to think beyond its urban landscape and urge his lay congregation to emphasize that which was ever-lasting.

The lay response to these efforts is difficult to trace, and many aspects of their lives remain beyond our grasp. We can, however, note the centrality of religion in the ornate sarcophagi characteristic of elite burial practice in Arles. These were filled with images from scripture, and suggest a world imbued with these stories.70 Many of them were discovered near the site of Genesius’ tomb, which may indicate ad sanctos burial and popular enthusiasm for his cult.71 This is supported by the relative popularity of the name Genesius in this region.72 However, when a certain Peter built a church in the Alyscamps cemetery in the mid-sixth century, he dedicated it to the universal saints Peter and Paul, not to the local one buried nearby.73 Perhaps this indicated Peter’s personal sense of connection to these saints. Unfortunately, funerary inscriptions from Arles are sparse in detail and do not provide much evidence to explore lay reactions to the sacred topography of the city.74 Overall, the picture that emerges of the religious environment of Arles is one of duality: not so much that of the two parts of the city, divided by the river, but the duality of a strong Christian presence sitting alongside the still very visible and impressive monuments of a non-Christian past. This duality, a constant presence in the lives of the lay inhabitants, was central to the bishops’ struggles to present a Christian vision of the city.


Lyon presents a different challenge. It is a city for which there is a range of interesting and potentially informative types of evidence, but none are detailed or substantive. Although there are descriptions of churches in Lyon in a letter of Sidonius and in a sermon of Avitus, scholars have been unable even to agree on what churches they relate to, so vague and generalized are the accounts. Although a number of Christian monuments from the city have been mapped, many others are lost, destroyed or buried beneath modern developments. Although we have sermons preached and miracle stories set in the city, none provide us with specific environmental descriptions. As a result, the picture of Lyon’s development in late antiquity is patchy, yet also interesting and suggestive.75 In particular, the sources create an impression of a city without a single centre or focus, dominated by the presence of trade and commerce. These would both have been important elements in the lay experience of the city, so it is worth sketching out what we can know, and assessing the value and nature of the picture that emerges.

Lyon was established at the confluence of two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône. This ensured its importance as a meeting point and centre of travel, but it also created a number of challenges for the city’s inhabitants. The low-lying area between the rivers was subject to frequent flooding, and the confluence was otherwise ringed by forbiddingly steep hills with minimal access to fresh water.76 Roman aqueducts and reclamation techniques were necessary to make large-scale settlement possible.77 A colony was founded in Lugdunum in 43 BCE. Soon after Agrippa added major road arteries to complement the rivers, making the city a transportation hub. In 26 BCE Augustus made it an imperial capital, and in 12 BCE Drusus dedicated here an altar designed as a meeting place for delegates of the three Gauls, a symbolic statement of the unity and loyalty of the new province. All of this construction was accompanied by a series of monumental buildings, which archaeologists now date largely to the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Claudius: forum, theatre, amphitheatre, baths, temples, an odeon and an extensive servicing network of aqueducts. Unsurprisingly, Lyon quickly drew a large number of inhabitants: imperial officials, merchants and tradespeople. Houses, shops, warehouses, workshops and port facilities proliferated.78 The community established here was very international: inscriptions attest to the presence of substantial Greek, Syrian and Jewish communities as well as a small group of Christians, largely also of Eastern extraction.79 Lyon was a place of movement and travel, defined by the rivers and roads that ran through it.

From an early point, however, geography ensured that all this development was fractured. The monumental heart of the city was on the Fourvière hill, and the wealthiest inhabitants of the city seem to have made their homes here, but this region was separated from the commercial district located on the banks of the rivers, where merchants who grew rich plying the rivers and roads built some substantial and impressive homes of their own. Both districts were distinct from the Croix-Rousse, where another cluster of residences and service establishments emerged around the altar and amphitheatre.80 From the outset, therefore, geography gave the city an ‘original physiognomy’: divided and difficult to traverse.81

The inconvenience that this caused may have been one reason why, already by the late second century, archaeologists have traced a population movement down from the Fourvière hill towards the increasingly reclaimed and stabilized river banks.82 This movement was intensified by subsequent events. Trade seems to have suffered during the economic and political turmoils of the third century, and in the administrative reforms of Diocletian, the city lost much of its pre-eminence to its neighbour and rival, Vienne.83 Substantial houses and tombs from this period indicate that at least some residents continued to enjoy prosperity, but there seems little doubt that Lyon had taken a hit, both in political and economic terms.84 The third and fourth centuries saw the high city progressively abandoned, perhaps reflecting a new focus on commercial enterprise, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of maintaining the necessary water supply, or perhaps reflecting the new desirability of riverside residences, as the imperial monuments became less relevant.85 Just as in Arles, the late Roman phase of the city appears to be characterized by pragmatic attitudes to the urban landscape. The Burgundians who took control of the region in the mid-fifth century made it a royal residence, and the mint continued to operate, but this brief and partial revival proved temporary.86 After the Franks conquered the region in 532, Lyon played no further significant role in Gallic politics or administration.87

The Christian landscape of Lyon intersected with these economic and political developments in several interesting ways. Lyon had a claim to Christian fame as the site of Gaul’s most famous martyrial bloodbath, when forty-eight Christians were killed there in 177.88 These events were recorded by Eusebius of Caesarea, and circulated widely through Gaul in the rather loose translation of Rufinus of Aquileia.89 This story was firmly located in the topography of Lyon, set against the houses, baths and streets of the city where the mob raged, the forum in which the Christians were tried, the amphitheatre in which the citizens gathered to watch their deaths, and the river into which their ashes were scattered to avoid future commemoration.90 The claiming of ‘secular’ monuments for a set of Christian memories thus began at an early stage in Lyon. Furthermore, the economic and political decline seems to have had little impact on the enthusiasm for Christian building, although Reynaud speculates that it did have an impact on the quality of church construction.91 Religion continued to be a spending priority, and by 600 Lyon had at least 14 substantial religious buildings.92

These buildings were spread through most of the city, except in its ancient centre. Although the modern cathedral of Lyon sits prominently above the city on the former site of the forum, no late antique churches were constructed in this monumental heart of the city. Instead, the episcopal group emerged on the bank of the Saône, with the earliest Christian buildings here probably emerging in the mid-fourth century. On this site gradually developed a complex of buildings which came to include a cathedral dedicated to John the Baptist, as well as churches dedicated to St Stephen and the Holy Cross, an episcopal residence and various service buildings.93 This complex was not, however, the only religious focus of the town. On the hill above it, in areas that had previously been cemeteries, were two funerary churches. One, dating to the late fourth or early fifth century, had originally been dedicated to the Maccabees, but later took the name of St Justus, after an early bishop of Lyon who was buried there.94 The originally small church on this site was expanded in the fifth century, but retained a funerary aspect, surrounded as it was by burial zones.95 Not far from it was another fifth-century funerary zone church, now dedicated to St Irenaeus, whose body it housed, along with the martyrs Epipodius and Alexander, but originally dedicated to St John. The fourth major church in Lyon was also a cemetery church, and located in a small flat area between the hills and river, in a region that may have been outside the late antique walls of the city. This church, which was dedicated to St Lawrence and dates to the fifth or possibly early sixth century, was constructed in the middle of a necropolis and was filled with tombs. Other churches are mentioned in our sources: a basilica dedicated to the forty-eight martyrs, another to Nicetius, bishop of Lyon, a church dedicated to Mary, another dedicated to Peter, a xenodochium, a couple of monasteries and crypts.96

This was therefore very much a city with multiple religious centres. The cathedral does not seem to have dominated the religious landscape or to have become a single focus – the funerary churches remained important throughout this period and received frequent mention in textual sources, as well as being our major source for grave inscriptions. Moreover, the four most important churches occupied quite distinct locales, in fragmented parts of the city. Even today, it is difficult to move between the cathedral and the high churches, and between the high churches and St Lawrence – the hills are steep and hard to traverse. There is no evidence in our sources that movement between these churches formed a part of the religious life of the city – we do not have accounts of processions, of pilgrimage routes or of liturgical events that connected these diverse locales.97 Christianity therefore did not work to overcome the fractured geography of the city – one could argue that it exacerbated it by providing multiple distinct foci.

Yet the geography of the city also ensured that the Christian topography followed a different path from what we generally observe in some other late antique Gallic cities. Although both St Justus and St Irenaeus occupied physically prominent locations, with high visibility and commanding views over the city, they resided in a zone which was peripheral even when the high city dominated Lyon, and which became only more so as the focus and weight of the city moved down towards the river.98 In this sense, the city came to the cathedral complex, and made it more centrally located than it probably initially was, the opposite of the late antique movement more commonly observed, whereby churches slowly invaded urban monumental centres. On the other hand, the presence of two important and apparently still frequently attended churches on the high hills above Lyon proved a force for conservative geographical continuity.99 They ensured that these regions remained, both conceptually and physically, a part of the city, and led at least some of the population to continue to reside there – clergy and monks among them.100 Given the range of activities that Sidonius describes around the church of St Justus during a break in festivities, the ‘realm of the dead’ (as Reynaud has it) would have come alive.101 The ‘organic’ development of the city towards the river, in other words, was counteracted by the pull of the Christian sacred zones in the high city areas.

Unfortunately, none of these churches survive in anything like their late antique form, and it has been difficult to reconstruct much more than their basic shapes and sizes.102 This means that there is limited evidence for actual lay use of and movement within the buildings themselves. There is, however, no evidence of restrictions on lay access to relics. Important relics in Lyon were held in churches, rather than monasteries or private chapels to which access might be limited. Textual sources appear to confirm that the laity of Lyon were able to get close to the tombs and precious artefacts of their saints, and nothing within the archaeological record negates this.103

None of the churches were particularly large – even the cathedral, which was part of an eventual complex of three different churches.104 Either no single church acted as a central meeting place for large sections of the population on any regular basis, or additional areas around the churches, including porticoes, were also used during large gatherings. Sidonius Apollinaris commented on the crowds and pressure, spilling over outside the main building, in a letter describing a festival in the church of St Justus.105 The churches seem to have had quite distinct usages, with St Justus and St Irenaeus serving as martyrial commemorative sites, where the pious sought healing and might hope to be buried ad sanctos, while St Lawrence served fundamentally as a funerary church for much larger numbers.106 It is not clear whether the different churches that formed part of the episcopal complex also had distinct roles and purposes, but this is a plausible explanation.107

To say anything about the lay experience of being in these churches, therefore, we are forced to turn to the textual record. Here Lyon provides a few fascinating, if frustratingly unspecific, descriptions. The most famous comes in a letter from Sidonius Apollinaris, providing the text of an inscription he had written at the request of bishop Patiens of Lyon, to adorn a newly built church.108

All you who here admire the work of Patiens, our bishop and father, may you by effectual supplication obtain the boon you ask for! The lofty temple sparkles and does not incline to right or left, but with its towering front faces the sunrise of the equinox. Within it the light flashes and the sunshine is so tempted to the gilded ceiling that it travels over the tawny metal, matching its hue. Marble diversified by various shining hints pervades the vaulting, the floor, the windows; forming designs of diverse colour, a verdant grass-green encrustation brings winding lines of sapphire-hued stones over the leek-green glass. Attached to this edifice is a triple colonnade rising proudly on columns of the marble of Aquitania. A second colonnade on the same plan closes the atrium at the farther end, and a stone forest clothes the middle area with columns standing well apart. On one side is the noisy high road, on the other the echoing Arar; on the first the traveller on foot or on horse and the drivers of creaking carriages turn round; on the other, the company of bargemen, their backs bent to their work, raise a boatmen’s shout to Christ, and the banks echo their alleluia. Sing, traveller, thus; sing, boatman, thus; for towards this place all should make their way, since through it runs the road which leads to salvation.

This may have been the church of St Justus, but the cathedral of St John seems a more likely candidate.109 The inscription gives us an invaluable account of the sensory experience of being in the church, and tells us about the intended effects of its architecture and decorative schemes, creating an impression of light, colour and spaciousness. There was no mention of the saint to whom the church is dedicated, of any relics, liturgy or services conducted within the church. In fact, there was little in this inscription to indicate that this was a monument to religion or location for Christian rituals. What Sidonius saw as most worthy of celebrating was the wealth and impressiveness of the display that this building constituted. The geography and personality of the city also intruded however, with the church surrounded by what made Lyon what it was: the river and the roads – a place of movement and transport and bustle and commerce. We gain, therefore, some brief glimpse of what mattered to at least one lay Christian about this church and about this city. It was not religious power built on miracles or relics or sanctity, but power built on wealth and industry, a statement of what the church had become and its place in a new society.

Similarly, a dedication sermon by Avitus of Vienne, generally held to be for a church in Lyon, also emphasized the building itself rather than the events that took place there. This sermon is unfortunately partially damaged, and Avitus’ Latin is quite obscure in places, so the overall effect is difficult to reconstruct. Nor is it clear which church he is describing, although St Irenaeus seems the most plausible candidate.110 In it we see Avitus describing a spacious church, with different areas developed for different functions. The preacher’s emphasis in this text is upon the complexity of the building – it is a multiplex templum with diverse elements, including an atrium, cloisters, galleries and crypt, while the altar was described as separated from the nave by an elevated platform.111 Lyon again made its presence indirectly felt, through the references to walls, gates and roads. This was a city that needed defending, but according to Avitus, the basilicas on the city’s outskirts took on this task. There was less here than in Sidonius’ text about the ornamentation of the church, or the sensory experience of being in it, but the emphasis was still, despite the slightly more pious tone, on the architectural achievement of the building. The audience for this sermon, which would have included many members of the elite, but perhaps extended to some ordinary citizens of Lyon as well, were encouraged to marvel at the statement of power and position that this church represented.112 The saints and their relics, buried in the crypt below, received only oblique reference.113 What these descriptions of the spaces in Lyon emphasized above all was the impact of the architecture of these buildings upon the Christian faithful. They created an impression of churches as civic monuments. If the lay people of the city felt insecure about their position in a time of change and urban diminution, here was an opportunity to reorient their civic pride around a new, Christian identity, dramatically marked upon the landscape.

These accounts contrast with the impressions of space and of lay activities provided by miracle stories and hagiography. It was the relics, the miracles they brought about and the ceremonies that surrounded them which formed the focus of Gregory of Tours’ stories set in Lyon – the architectural settings were always merely incidental.114 Gregory revealed almost nothing about what the church dedicated to the forty-eight martyrs was like, except that it was of astounding size, nothing about the crypt under St Irenaeus aside from the location of the bodies in it and its great brightness, and nothing about the nature of the tomb of the woman who picked up the sandal of the saint Epipodius, aside from the fact that ‘often people suffering from chills and other ill people are healed’ there.115 The Vita of Nicetius of Lyon likewise used the churches of Lyon as backdrop, but said little about what they looked like. These texts did, however, make broad claims for lay participation in the religious life of Lyon. They described lay people scratching dust from saintly tombs in hopes of cures or protection from bad weather, and leaving herbs there as offerings.116 At the tomb of Nicetius, the Vita claimed that numerous high-profile public miracles were performed for the pious laity.117 Gregory wrote that his deacon saw there crowds of people buzzing around the tomb like bees in a hive.118 Agiulf supposedly examined ‘the famous register of the various miracles which had been done there’, and Gregory provides almost our only suggestions that Lyon might have been a pilgrimage site.119 He described Agiulf’s visit there on his return from Rome and also the visit of John, a priest involved in some kind of commercial business who stopped in at the shrines of Lyon on his way back to Geneva from Marseilles. It is perhaps not a coincidence, however, that both figures were passing through. The same was true of the possessed people who were on their way to see St Martin, but stopped in Lyon en route and received a cure.120 Lyon was a place of transition, not a religious destination in itself.

Naturally, we need to be sceptical of the claims for lay enthusiasm made in these texts. They suggest some possible modes of lay interaction with religious buildings, but are so standardized as to raise our suspicions. It is noticeable that merchants and travellers appear in these stories with relative frequency – the particular character of the population in Lyon does seem to be reflected here.121 The mercantile focus of the culture and perhaps also piety of Lyon is reflected finally in the fascinating epitaph of Agapus, a merchant (negotiator), who died in 601.122 Agapus was described as the ‘bay of the afflicted and the port of the needy’ (stacio miseris et portus eginis), a charitable metaphor that echoes the travel and movement required of a businessman who very likely made his money from trade. Agapus’ commemorators deliberately chose to depict his religious world as intertwined with his commercial activities. The lay people of Lyon lived in a world that was fractured and divided, where trade no longer brought prosperity and importance to their city. However, even at the start of the seventh century, economic activity could still characterize Lyon and could be the metaphor Agapus’ commemorators turned to when they wished to show that he was a good Christian, and a pious man.


The situation of our next case-study, Trier, was unique in a number of respects. Right from the start, Trier was established as an important centre, due in large part to its strategic location near (but not too near) to the Rhine, with the Moselle river serving as a convenient means of moving goods and people to and from the frontier zone.123 Even in its early stages in the first century, it was conceived on a large scale, anticipating further growth.124 By the second century it was the seat of the procurator of the province of Belgica.125 When the walls were built, perhaps as early as the late second century, they stretched an extraordinary six kilometres, and enclosed 285 hectares.126 The land inside was not yet all populated, but the anticipation and expectation would have been palpable.127 Trier was all about forward planning. The city was quickly populated with a range of the usual monumental elements – forum, baths, amphitheatre, circus, grand temples, a stone bridge over the Moselle – but also governmental buildings suitable for the leading city in the region.128

However, the high empire was not to be Trier’s peak. This came after Diocletian’s reorganization of the empire, making Trier one of the four imperial capitals and one of the great cities of the empire, after only Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria.129 Diocletian, and Constantine after him, kick-started a remarkable series of imperial constructions that dominated the landscape of even as large a city as this: imperial residences, sites of governance including the imposing basilica and another set of splendid baths.130 This ‘imperial zone’ eventually stretched all the way along the eastern side of the city, and made the city a backdrop for the display and enactment of imperial power on a level unprecedented for Gaul.131 Even when the emperor was not himself present, Trier was the centre of power in Gaul – the base for the praetorian prefect and the governor of Belgica I. The attending staff of these figures alone would have brought enormous wealth into the city in the form of their salaries.132 The political and administrative position of Trier was intertwined with its economy in other ways as well. Ausonius emphasized in particular Trier’s role in feeding, clothing and arming the soldiers: the Moselle, he wrote, ‘glides past with peaceful stream, carrying the far-brought merchandise of all races of the earth’.133 Trier was a distribution point for the annona, and the site of a state granary.134 The roads of Trier were paved in the fourth century with paving stones instead of the usual gravel, and the city appears to have been densely occupied.135 It was flourishing. This was a city that was self-consciously a centre of empire.

This imperial role also had an impact on the city’s religious landscape. In 326, Constantine began the construction of what would become an enormous cathedral complex, suitable in size and scale for an imperial city.136 Although it is not clear how much of the complex was planned right from the start, on this site eventually emerged two large basilica-style churches with colonnaded courts, connected by a baptistery, and accompanied by a range of supplementary buildings.137 Clearly, those who planned the complex did not feel the need to create a single focus for sacred space, even in the episcopal church – they were comfortable with a multiplicity that we can find baffling.

Our literary sources do not say much about the religious world of this cathedral complex. As a result of the literary silence, scholars have sometimes assumed that the city’s more peripheral churches were the true focus of lay religious activity.138 However, Mark Handley’s work on the inscriptions of Trier has demonstrated that the cathedral complex was a popular destination for pilgrims who left graffiti recording their presence and their pious wishes to ‘Live in God’.139 An internal aedicule in the north basilica may have been intended to hold a precious relic, perhaps even something brought from the East by Constantine’s mother Helena.140 Specific evidence is lacking, but this could explain the interest of pilgrims.141 There are intriguing suggestions here of a lay religious enthusiasm which does not otherwise emerge in our literary record, but its form – pilgrimage to a site of religious power – matches descriptions of such religious interest elsewhere.

The literary record focuses more on the churches that emerged in the cemetery zones outside the city and the martyrial cults connected to these. These churches included ones dedicated to Paulinus, a fourth-century bishop of Trier, and to Maximinus, both to the north of the city, beyond the Porta Nigra gate. To the south was a church with the tombs of bishops Eucherius and Valerius, perhaps built by their fifth-century successor Cyril of Trier.142 Gregory of Tours described these saints as protecting the city, stationed at the gates, while the bishop resided in the centre, and talked of Nicetius travelling between them, doing the rounds of the city’s holy locales.143 Gregory also described a number of lay activities in these churches, claiming that miracles were often witnessed at the tomb of Maximinus, ‘an effective advocate with God on behalf of the people of the city’.144 According to Gregory’s evidence, possessed people also slept in the forecourt of Maximinus’ church.145 He detailed the impact on a perjurious priest who descended through three doors to enter the sanctum of the tomb and swear an oath.146 Excavations have largely confirmed Gregory’s account, finding a crypt beneath the church where Maximinus’ tomb may indeed have lain.147 It was accessible at least to the clergy – we hear also of the bishop Magneric lying down and praying next to it.148 Lay access can probably be presumed as well. Many sarcophagi were found around this church, although it is not clear whether this reflects burial ad sanctos or simply the position of the church in the midst of a popular graveyard.149 Nicetius of Trier was buried in this church in the sixth century and Gregory recorded people accessing his tomb to swear oaths.150 Gregory had little to say about the cult of Eucherius, but here the epigraphic record again provides some invaluable evidence. The large number of inscriptions found near this church demonstrates Eucherius’ popularity, and the promotion of the cult by bishop Cyril.151 Eucherius seems to have attracted the most interest in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. As the fifth century moved on, however, lay focus shifted to the cults of Paulinus and Maximinus, again based on the evidence of the inscriptional record.152 Even these peripheral churches appear to have benefitted from Trier’s fourth-century boom – they were enlarged, and the wealth of their patrons was reflected in the carved stone sarcophagi that surrounded them.153 They were important sites of local lay religious interest, alongside the pilgrimage centre at the city’s cathedral.

All of these Christian elements in the landscape are striking. However, it is important to note that a pagan presence persisted within the city.154 The enormous complex of the Altbachtal, with its agglomeration of tiny shrines, many of them little more than housings for cult statues, remained a lively and active force in the heart of the city, at least until Gratian drove a road through it around 380.155 The sanctuary dedicated to Lenus Mars, across the Moselle, also seems to have been active through this period.156 When Vulfoliac was setting up his column on a hillside just outside Trier in the late sixth century, he claimed that there were still pagan practices going on in the area.157 Christianity was not completely dominant, even in this imperial city.

By the time of Vulfoliac, however, Trier was already past its heyday. Its peak, however impressive, was brief. After about 380 it never again served as imperial residence, and by the early fifth century it may have already seen the departure of the praetorian prefect to a safer locale in the south.158 When barbarians seeking land and leverage crossed the Rhine in 406–407, Trier was in the direct line of fire.159 It was captured by the Franks around 411, and by the middle of the fifth century Salvian was claiming that it had been sacked four times.160 According to an eighth-century source, it was destroyed by the Huns in 451.161 The accuracy of these literary accounts has long been doubted, and the mint in fact remained active until the 450s, but there can be no doubt that a city so tied to imperial power was diminished by the gradual withdrawal of Roman armies, governance and interest. Trier did not recover its role as a capital under Frankish rule, and there is archaeological evidence of economic contraction in this period as well.162 The cathedral complex was damaged at some point in the fifth century and the north basilica was for a long time abandoned – it was only eventually restored in the episcopate of Nicetius in the early sixth century.163 Although reduced in importance, and in power, the monuments remained. Trier never built a second lot of smaller walls to reflect its reduced scope – its inhabitants continued to dwell in a city surrounded by reminders of past glory.164 Excavations of one bath complex, the Barbarathermen, have revealed evidence of the disuse or destruction of this complex around the middle of the fifth century.165 It may have been used as housing for barbarian soldiers and their families, while another bath complex, the Kaiserthermen, became the base for the Frankish count.166 The amphitheatre became a citadel.167 ‘The aura of her former greatness’, however, as Wightman has remarked, ‘never completely disappeared’.168 One can sense it in the scale of the monuments even today.

Trier therefore provides a particularly interesting case-study. Its inscriptional record is unusually extensive, reflecting the presence of many officials and aristocrats who wished to record and display family achievements. This record gives us a glimpse of lay ad sanctos burial practices that do not necessarily match the picture provided by our literary evidence. The lay population of Trier clearly had their own ideas about which saints were most powerful, quite distinct from clerical promotion efforts. However, the bigger picture – of lay confidence in the efficacy of the saints, and belief in the benefit of physical proximity to them – is consistent with the picture that we get from Gregory of Tours and other clerical authors. Trier is therefore a useful corroboration of the general forms which lay piety might take, and the ways in which lay people might interact with sacred space, even in a city not otherwise renowned as a religious centre.


In Tours we have the rather different situation that almost no traces of the late antique city remain in the archaeological record, yet we have extensive and detailed descriptions of the main Christian monuments in the city in the works of Gregory of Tours, and even some indication of the decorations on the walls of the churches, from the inscriptional record.169 No late antique churches survive to any level in Tours, and the locations of many of the places mentioned by Gregory are quite uncertain.170 Archaeologists have been able to establish the location of the wall circuit, the amphitheatre and some housing areas, but little else besides.171 Yet the accounts we have of the cathedral and, in particular, of the church dedicated to Martin outside the city walls, have enabled scholars to produce evocative and powerful recreations of what it may have been like to be present in these sacred spaces. We can use the sources we have to evoke a particular time and place, and see how the lay people who lived in Tours, or went on pilgrimage there, experienced the religious topography of the city.

All Roman cities were artificial creations, but some perpetuated themselves as a result of clear economic or political functions – they made sense as centres of activity and would continue to function so long as those activities did. Tours was never an important centre of trade or travel, and only briefly a political centre of any significance.172 Although it acquired the standard set of Roman monumental buildings (forum, temples, amphitheatre, baths), and reached a peak of spread and population in the second century, by the end of this century it was already shrinking in scope, and only the north-eastern sector remained occupied.173 This area was eventually enclosed by a wall, completed by the late fourth century, comprising a total of only nine hectares, making it one of the smallest enclosed settlements in Gaul.174 This area probably did not indicate the limits of residential housing – the walled area (the castrum) instead enclosed an ecclesiastical and political administration centre; some traces of late Roman housing have been found in the suburban areas beyond the walls.175 Nonetheless, this small walled area would have redefined the sense of Tours as a city and the experience of its citizens and visitors. Previously, there had been no clear boundary between urban and rural at Tours, and only the cemetery areas marked the conceptual limits of urban space.176 Now the urban was clearly marked and constricted. A number of formerly residential sites outside the castrum were given over to agriculture around this time.177

The Christian conception of Tours would be forever marked by its most famous bishop, Martin (371–97). Martin had presided over the liturgy in the cathedral within the castrum, perhaps built by his predecessor, Litorius, had slept in an attached cell and had spent time also in his monastery Marmoutiers, on the other side of the Loire.178 The chief location of Martin-veneration, however, quickly became the site of his tomb in the cemetery area to the west of the city. Martin’s successor, Bricius, had built a small shrine over his burial place, but this was replaced with a much larger building in the late fifth century, under the episcopate of Perpetuus, an energetic promoter of the Martinian cult.179 Around this church gradually grew a large complex of buildings, ‘almost a small village’, as Van Dam describes it: two courtyards, housing for individual ascetics, a convent, a poor house, two baptisteries and a bell tower.180 In the near vicinity sprang up monasteries, other churches and oratories, and residences for the clergy and monks who served all these sacred locales.181 Given the pressure on space within the walled section of Tours, the services to feed, house and exploit pilgrims may also have been located here. The result was an alternative city, Martin’s city, 800 m down the road from the castrum.182 It, and Marmoutiers, was the main site visited by pilgrims seeking Martin’s assistance.183 Van Dam speculates that by the sixth century few travellers may have bothered going into the old walled city.184 When the cathedral was destroyed by fire in 558, it lay in ruins for a long time before restorations were complete and it came back into service.185 In the Christian topography of Tours, the castrum was not a centre.

However, as bishop, Gregory of Tours worked hard to overcome this separation. It was he who repaired the cathedral in the castrum, ‘bigger and higher than before’, and had it decorated with paintings depicting some of Martin’s most important miracles, complete with poetic legends composed by his friend Venantius Fortunatus.186 These included an image of Martin officiating at the altar, with flames over his head, which Brian Brennan argues was placed on the apse wall behind or in the half-dome above the altar itself – a reminder that the miracle had taken place in that very spot.187 He also commissioned an inscription for the cell next to the cathedral where Martin had slept, commemorating a miracle performed there.188 Perhaps in order to secure the cathedral’s place on the pilgrimage route, Gregory placed in the cathedral, and in Martin’s cell, the relics of a number of martyrs that he had found in the treasury of St Martin’s church, as well as relics of Martin himself.189 Gregory’s emphasis on Martin has often been interpreted as an attempt to bolster his authority by presenting himself as Martin’s successor, and undoubtedly this was one of his motives.190 However, it was also an attempt to ensure that the cult of Martin remained connected to the episcopate, and to the clerical institutions of Tours, located primarily in the castrum. Gregory wanted the faithful to experience all of Tours as Martin’s city.

We cannot know if the lay people who lived in Tours and the many lay pilgrims who visited it did indeed experience the city as Gregory, or any of the other bishops, hoped they would. We can, however, reconstruct something of the spaces they moved in. Venantius Fortunatus’ poem praising Gregory’s reconstruction of the cathedral in the castrum picked out for praise its size, large windows and use of artificial light.191 His description of the images on its walls and the poetic pieces he wrote to accompany them, meanwhile, give us further valuable details.192 Venantius gives us a list of what the images depicted: Martin purging a leper, dividing his cloak, giving away his tunic, reviving the dead, cutting down the pine tree, overthrowing the idols, exposing the false martyr. They were so vivid, he claimed, as to be like ‘living figures’.193 All of these episodes would have been immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the Vita of Martin and the miracle stories associated with him, stories which themselves would have been read in the cathedral on particular occasions.194 For the elite faithful, there were also Venantius’ accompanying ‘intricate elegiac distiches’, which alluded to allegorical readings, and were packed with classical and theological references.195 Brennan saw the key message of the images as being about Gregory’s association with Martin, but for most lay viewers, the miraculous power of Martin would surely have been the most vivid impression. It was, after all, in search of that miraculous power that so many of them had come to Tours in the first place.

The church of St Martin which contained his tomb appears even more vividly in Gregory’s accounts. Gregory described the church over Martin’s tomb with a number of specific details, although its exact layout is not clear.196 It was, he wrote, 160 feet long by 60 feet across, with a height of 45 feet to the vaulting. It had thirty-two windows in the sanctuary and twenty in the nave, while there were a total of 120 columns in the building and eight doorways.197 Noël Duval emphasizes how light the building would have been with this number of windows, and the effect of this on the brightly coloured paintings and mosaics.198 Sidonius Apollinaris described it in an inscription in its apse as rivalling Solomon’s temple – indicating ambition, perhaps, rather than accuracy.199 The inscription over the west doors served to set up what the proper relationship between saint and believer should be: ‘The person who makes just requests returns after gaining his vows’ – a reciprocal and binding relationship of service.200 Indeed, the inscriptions gave a number of instructions to the faithful – how to contemplate an image, how to properly compose your heart to the correct attitude – and a number of ‘lessons’ about the connections between heaven and earth, or the power of the saint.201 The images also fitted the surroundings – for example, an image of Jesus walking on water over the door facing towards the Loire river.202 Along the walls were pictures from the Vita of Martin, accompanied by inscriptions from Paulinus of Périgueux.203 These served to ratchet up the sense of sanctity as the faithful progressed through the church, culminating in a sense of awe near the tomb itself, echoed in the inscription on the arch of the apse over the altar: ‘How this place must be feared! Indeed it is the temple of God and the gateway to heaven.’204 Luce Pietri calls them ‘a sort of pilgrim’s guide’, which would enable visitors to progress, stage by stage, following a spiritual itinerary from terrestrial realities to celestial certainties.205

The church had two sites of particular holiness: the tomb itself and the altar. The altar contained relics of the martyrs of Agaune and sat in front of Martin’s tomb, with the choir in between, perhaps set off with a chancel of wood.206 This most sacred zone was accessible to the laity when services were not being held: they scraped dust from the tomb, kissed it and pressed its covering to their eyes.207 Others could approach from behind, gathering in the courtyard outside the eastern apse where the tomb was located, ‘at the feet of St Martin’.208 Beyond the nave, a complex of rooms catered to the needs of clerics, but even these could be penetrated by the laity, as we have already seen in the account of Eberulf’s sanctuary.209 This was a church designed for use by lay people; designed so that they could access sanctity.

It was very much a cult centre. The experience of entering it would have been marked vividly by the approach through courtyards filled with the sick and possessed, and by ascetics of varying sanctity or madness.210 In the surrounding buildings resided women who had fled their husbands, servants who had fled their masters and retainers who had fled the wrath of their king.211 There were former queens and crippled children abandoned by their parents.212 Some of them stayed around the church of Martin for extended periods of time, or even lived there permanently. Others might spend a night or two sleeping before the tomb itself.213 Those who journeyed to the tomb of St Martin did so with an expectation of miraculous intervention. Sceptics or the doubtful would have been thin on the ground here – instead the atmosphere would have been one of anticipation. On the occasions of Martin’s festivals, the entire area would have been packed with revellers of all social classes, drinking and celebrating their saint.214

The organic growth of Tours sat at the opposite end of the spectrum from carefully planned Trier. It had never been intended as a major centre and its growth and importance developed as a result of the unpredictable popularity of Martin’s cult. Its split and in many ways impractical topography reflected this. The experience of lay people in Tours would have been defined by the need to interact with two very different spaces. The world of many permanent residents would have revolved around the castrum, the cathedral, and its regular provision of services. The experiences of others, however, would have centred on Martin’s tomb and the complex around it, a world that was marked more by extreme and unusual religious expressions. In both cases, however, the shadow of Martin would have loomed large, thanks to the efforts of Gregory and others. Whatever the locals thought of their famous patron, he would have been an inescapable part of their religious environments.


The overall theme that emerges from these case-studies is multiplicity. There was significant variety in the histories of Gallic cities in late antiquity and very different religious topographies emerged as a result. The religious environments of lay people would have therefore depended a great deal on where they lived and they would have had very different opportunities for interaction with the sacred, whether through processions, relic veneration, festivals, ad sanctos burial, or the regular enactment of Christian rituals. The case-studies also demonstrate that many cities had multiple religious foci. It was seldom the case that lay religious attention was drawn towards a single centre – more often it was spread across many locales of different natures and forms. This meant that the lay religious experience could not be easily controlled. There were many opportunities here for lay people to find the religious environments that suited them, or to shape those environments in order to suit them. Even within churches, as we have seen, there could be multiple foci. The clergy could not easily direct the forms of lay piety, or impiety, under those circumstances. Finally, these cities demonstrate that there are multiple sources with which historians have to grapple, and a range of different types of evidence, each providing a particular perspective. Ultimately, each picture is partial, and some are frustratingly difficult to see. Nonetheless, the evidence we have is invaluable – it gives us something of the physical world that surrounded the urban lay people of late antique Gaul. If we take on Esmonde Cleary’s idea of the city making a particular type of citizen, then the lay people of Arles, Lyon, Trier and Tours all must have become different kinds of religious citizens, based in large part on the ways in which religion shaped the landscapes of their cities.

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